The Street-Fighting Martial Art Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's Appeal Creates Lots of New Devotees By Tom Jackman Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, October 27, 2005; Page VA18 Shane Arechiga isn't big for a 12-year-old, but he throws down hard. On the mats of the Yamasaki Academy, inside Kim's Karate in Springfield Mall, he easily grapples with, or lifts and then tosses down, larger and more experienced men. With three years of training, he looks like an expert in the martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is rapidly gaining popularity in the Washington area. "It's just fun," he said recently during a break from practice, though he casually admitted that he had used his self-defense training in real life. After a bully at his school in Maryland punched him, Shane quickly put him on the floor without throwing a punch, according to his father, Tod Arechiga. And that's what distinguishes Brazilian jiu-jitsu from other martial arts, its proponents say. The niceties of form and philosophy in an ancient martial art won't help when a mugging, bar fight or sexual assault puts a person on the ground or in a brutal clinch, as such real-life altercations often do. Brazilian jiu-jitsu teaches not only how to throw -- or pick up and toss down -- an opponent, but also how to fend off one who is on top or is trying to punch or choke, and how to force an attacker to submit by cutting off breathing or controlling key joints. "All the others are standing martial arts," emphasizing stand-up fighting, said Fernando Yamasaki, whose Brazilian family has established growing outposts in Springfield, Chantilly, Leesburg, the District and Rockville. "Our jiu-jitsu was taken from the street fight," which focuses on submission and ground fighting. Francisco Neto, one of Yamasaki's instructors and a native of Sao Paolo, described it as "an evolution of martial arts. All the teachers [of other techniques] kept it the traditional way, the way they used to do it 2,000 years ago. Brazilian jiu-jitsu made it practical." There is no strong emphasis on a certain philosophy, or chi, or "wax on, wax off," as the instructor in "The Karate Kid" films famously said. But a mental strength and confidence clearly develop among Brazilian jiu-jitsu devotees, along with the camaraderie of having shared brutal sessions of sparring, grappling and maneuvering. "You have to constantly work with changing circumstances while you stay focused on overcoming the challenge of a match," said Mike Casey, 41, of Oakton, who took up the sport two years ago and won a gold medal in his division at the world championships in Rio de Janeiro in August. "What I found is formerly stressful situations aren't stressful anymore. Because when you fight someone who's trying to choke you or break your arm, office [problems] just aren't that big a deal anymore." Brazilian jiu-jitsu academies are springing up all over Northern Virginia and throughout the state, said Gustavo Machado, president of the Virginia BJJ Federation. "Virginia and D.C., it's growing so much. I'm really surprised with the growth," Machado said. In launching a tournament in Virginia Beach next month, Machado said he sent invitations to 50 Brazilian jiu-jitsu academies around the state. The sport evolved in the transplanted Japanese culture in Brazil in the 1920s and '30s, led by a man named Helio Gracie. Yamasaki said Gracie would travel from town to town, challenging all comers to fight him in the style of "vale tudo," or "anything goes." Soon, Gracie and some of his six sons began teaching their revised version of jujitsu, a Japanese form of wrestling, at academies in Brazil. They later began opening schools in this country, and Rorion, Rodrigo, Rickson and Royce Gracie are now revered masters of the sport. Its popularity began to grow when the Gracie family and jiu-jitsu's followers discovered the "Ultimate Fighting Championship," violent American bouts often seen on pay-per-view television. The Gracies and others participated in the TV contests, dominating bigger, stronger men and winning championships. Word spread, and fighters who once specialized only in boxing or karate added Brazilian jiu-jitsu to their repertoires. Mike Casey of Oakton, left, who won a gold medal at the world championships in Rio de Janiero, works with his coach, Fernando Yamasaki, whose family has five academies in the area.